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7 Reasons You Won’t Start Studying Until It’s Too Late, And What To Do About It

7 Reasons You Won’t Start Studying Until It’s Too Late, And What To Do About It

For most of us, the experience of studying for an exam can be captured in one word: panic. You’ve got 18 hours, exhausted, and sitting there staring at an equations sheet full of gibberish. Whyyy? Why didn’t I start earlier?

Believe it or not, there are forces acting against you, pulling you away from starting early enough so that you can comfortably learn new material. Here are 7 of the most insidious reasons why you don’t start early, and what you can do about it.

1. You’re anticipating hard work

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    Procrastination is generally viewed as this guilt-ridden character defect shared almost universally by all students. The problem is, this is exactly what we should expect to happen from an evolutionary perspective.

    Humans are known to be cognitive misers: we conserve mental resources whenever possible, especially when facing tasks not viewed as “essential to our survival.”

    In other words, we put off studying until the last minute because (1) we know the work is hard and will require a lot of mental energy, and (2) until there’s the threat of actually failing the exam (and therefore potentially being humiliated publicly) we’re not in enough emotional pain to motivate us to start studying.

    Additionally, when your brain anticipates multiple outcomes that are all viewed as “painful” (the pain of studying vs. the pain of failing out of college) you become immobilized, unable to choose the lesser of two evils, and push off the work even further.

    Schedule in time for yourself first and then fill in the gaps with study time.

    As Niel Fiore discusses in bestselling classic, The Now Habit, part of the reason you procrastinate is because you see no end in site.

    Think of the difference between a 100 yard dash and a marathon. In the first case you’re able to give maximum effort because you can see the finish line and know it will be over soon. The marathon runner is not so lucky. They know there’s a long road ahead filled with pain and exhaustion, and subconsciously conserve their effort to ensure they can make it through all 26.2 miles.

    This is all to say, if you know you get to go hang out in your buddy’s dorm room and goof off for an hour after you study, you’re much more likely to want to invest that energy.

    As a side benefit, you end up taking advantage of Parkinson’s Law. Because your work expands to fill the time allotted, by scheduling less time for studying, you actually become more productive and focused.

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    2. You’re sleep deprived

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      Who in college isn’t pounding the caffeine?

      Students who force themselves through weeks upon weeks of 4-6 hour sleep nights, are significantly deteriorating two aspects of their mental performance critical to studying for exams: motivation and vigilance.

      Studies show that poor sleep negatively impacts motivation. But really, no one needs a study to tell them how much worse your outlook on life is when you’re low on sleep.

      And vigilance, the ability to maintain concentrated attention over prolonged periods of time, is also significantly reduced during a period of either acute (staying up all night studying), or chronic (cutting sleep short for multiple days) sleep deprivation.

      Set yourself an end-of-the-day alarm.

      Yes, studying more consistently for shorter chunks will allow you to spread it over a longer period of time; therefore, preventing the need to deprive yourself of sleep just to get your coursework done. But really, it’s a psychological issue.

      There are a million things we’d rather stay up and do, than go right to bed after a full day of classes, only to have to get up and do the same thing over again. This is a chicken/egg problem: if I don’t get sleep I procrastinate studying, but if I go to bed I’ll just have to get up and study. Again, lose-lose. We need to break the cycle.

      Set yourself an alarm. But not in the morning. Set your alarm for 45 minutes before when you should get to sleep and allow yourself to sleep for a full 8 hours. If you adhere to that you’ll be surprised how many hours of free time seem to materialize.

      Study time + free time + sleep = happy and successful students.

      3. You have a false sense of security

      Photo credit: funnfun.in

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        You may think you’re being a diligent student, sitting there in the lecture, listening intently, copying down page after page of notes from the professor. You might even be following along and raise your hand here and there. But there’s a big difference between feeling like you understand something, and actually being able to reproduce it on a test.

        This is what we call passive learning, and it’s the best way to ensure that you’ll spend a lot of time and effort trying to learn new material, without actually being able to retain any of it.

        Quiz yourself.

        Don’t be fooled by your professor’s overly logical explanations. This dude already knows the material, so it’s easy for him to explain it in a way that others find understandable. The real challenge is whether or not you can do the same.

        If you’re wondering if you actually understand something, quiz yourself. Or better yet, explain it to someone (or yourself, but be warned: people tend to stare).

        As Einstein liked to say, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

        By routinely quizzing yourself, you’ll get a dose of reality of whether you actually know the material or not, instead of what most students do: assume they know it until the night before the test, when they proceed to freak out because they can’t do any of the practice problems.

        4. Not all study time is created equal

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          Fact: seven hours of studying over 7 days is much more effective (more learning per time spent) for understanding new material than 7 hours of studying in one chunk. This is especially true for technical courses with new jargon you have to internalize.

          Chunk your study time.

          The brain uses a ton of energy (20% of our resting metabolic rate), and there’s only so much you can expend per day. To maximize your retention of new material, you want to take advantage of both active learning and recovery.

          Because the brain consolidates new neural pathways during sleep, particularly during REM sleep, the more sleep cycles you intersperse between your study hours, the more likely it is that you will retain the material and be able to whip it out on test day.

          This also allows you to take advantage of spaced repetition. Instead of having to constantly review your material to keep it in the forefront of your memory, you can follow a cycle of ever-increasing time intervals between review sessions (the “forgetting curve”), decreasing the overall amount of time needed to re-learn material you might have forgotten from the beginning of the semester when the final rolls around.

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          5. The planning fallacy

          Humans systematically overestimate what can be accomplished in the short-term, and underestimate what can be accomplished in the long-term.

          Ironically (and sadly), we only have this problem evaluating our own tasks – providing a pretty accurate picture of how long things will take when evaluating someone else’s situation objectively.

          “Dude I’ve got this Calc final covered. Just need a couple days before to go over my notes. But you’re screwed for your Orgo class – better head to the library now or you’re never gonna pass.”

          Use the 50% rule.

          Estimate as conservatively as you can, how much time it’s going to take to study for your exam, assuming you start early and work consistently.

          Done?

          Okay. Now add 50% to that estimate.

          This will give you a more accurate picture of how much time you really need to allocate to starting studying.

          6. You think you have more study time than you do

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            Pull up your Sunday schedule. What do you see?

            Oh looks like I’ve got a big chunk of free time from 4pm to 10pm. Perfect, I’ll just squeeze in 5 or 6 hours of studying and then call it a night.

            Try again. It’s more like 2-3 hours.

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            This is another type of planning mistake: overestimating how much productive time we can extract from any given period.

            Things we tend to forget: we need to eat; we need to sleep; there will be interruptions (yea right like you’re actually going to shut off your phone).

            But another thing we fail to account for: the body goes through 90-120 minute activity cycles (called the Ultradian Rhythm). So even though you may be sitting there, highlighting your textbook for 3 hours straight, you really only have the ability to absorb material for 1.5 to 2 hours before you need a period of rest.

            Cut your estimated hours in half.

            If you think you have 8 hours on Sunday after the game to study, forget it. You actually have 4 or less when you take out time for eating, breaks, and normal daily activities.

            7. You can’t get motivated or focused

            A lot of us tend to sit around and wait…

            Waiting for the wave of motivation to strike us to finally get started on the homework assignment due in 24 hours, or studying for the midterm.

            Here’s the problem: motivation comes and goes, but the demands of school and learning and everyday life don’t. And if you’re relying on your motivation to keep you focused, everything you’re doing is going to be in a perpetual state of lateness and last-minute-ness, because there’s never enough motivation to go around.

            Focus on the process, with the end in mind.

            Why are you in school? Why do you want a degree? Get clear on exactly what your motivations are.

            But thinking about the future is not enough. That vision of the future that drives your emotional intensity needs to be linked to your daily activities. (e.g. “Each day I study for Calculus brings me one step closer to being a doctor and making a difference in people’s lives.”)

            What is the one set of activities each day that will virtually guarantee success in your coursework?

            And what can you do to organize your day, set up incentives, quit things that don’t matter, etc. to virtually guarantee you will do that one set of activities day in and day out, despite motivation?

            Featured photo credit: UBC Learning Commons via flickr.com

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            Last Updated on June 19, 2019

            10 Best Ted Talks About Procrastination That Will Ignite Your Motivation

            10 Best Ted Talks About Procrastination That Will Ignite Your Motivation

            There are two types of people in this world; one who wants to complete their work as early as possible and one who wants to delay it as much they can. The first category of this depicts ‘precrastinators’ and the latter one are termed as ‘procrastinators’.

            Much has been researched and published about procrastination; most of the studies terming it as detrimental to one’s health and adding to stress levels. Though, there are ‘procrastinating apologists’ as you would call them who proclaim there are a few benefits of it as well. But scientists have argued that the detriments of procrastination far outweigh the short-term benefits of it.

            Everybody procrastinates, but not everybody is a procrastinator. Procrastination is habitual, not situational.

            For an employee, it means piling up work until the end hours of their shift and then completing it in a hurry. For a student, it means not studying for an exam that is due the next week and cramming up the whole book one night before.

            If you fall into this category, do not worry, there have also been articles published and speeches given by successful leaders on how procrastinators aren’t so bad after all.

            Here are 10 of the best Ted Talks about procrastination that will help you regain motivation:

            1. Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator, by Tim Urban

            Tim Urban gives his funny uptake on procrastination and dives deep into how a procrastinator’s mind functions. He goes ahead and tells the audience about how ‘precrastinators’ have a rational decision-maker in their mind but in a procrastinator’s mind, there are two other entities existing — the ‘instant gratification monkey’ and ‘the panic monster’

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            From the video, you will learn how to stay aware of the ‘instant gratification monkey’ whenever you have to complete a task.

            2. The Surprising Habits Of Original Thinkers, by Adam Grant

            In this video, Adam Grant builds on the concepts of ‘instant gratification monkey’ and ‘the panic monster,’ and marks a balance between ‘precrastinators’ and procrastinators giving existence to a productive and creative persona.

            He talks about how a lot of great personalities in the course of history were procrastinators giving an example of Martin Luther King Jr. delaying the writing of his speech. ‘I have a dream’ was not in the script but was an original phrase by the leader; he opened himself to every possible avenue by not going with the script.

            You can learn about how one has to be different and better rather than be the first-mover, going deep into the correlation between original thinkers and procrastinators.

            3. An End To Procrastination, by Archana Murthy

            According to a survey,[1] 20% of Americans are chronic procrastinators. Study after study shows chronic procrastination isn’t just laziness and poor time-management, but is actually a byproduct of negative emotions such as guilt, anxiety, depression and low self-worth — which is different from the contrary belief.

            Archana Murthy gives us an insight into the procrastinator’s plight and provides ways to help the procrastinator in you.

            For a fellow procrastinator, you should check out her good advice on how to end it.

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            4. Why We Procrastinate, by Vik Nithy

            Vik Nithy has already found 23 companies before coming to give his speech on procrastination. He puts forward the structure of our brain, showing the prefrontal cortex as the intelligent one telling us to complete the assignment due next day.

            Procrastinators are threatened by complex work which gives them anxiety and that is where Amygdala comes in telling us to find pleasure in other activities.

            Going ahead, you’ll from him how to overcome procrastination i.e. planning for goals, time, resources, process, distractions, and for failure.

            5. Trust The Procrastinator, by Valerie Brown

            Frankly, this is one of the best speeches on procrastination given on the TedTalks platform. Valerie Brown tells us that we live in a society where every body wants everything right now and procrastinators aren’t in those ‘right-now’ people.

            She gives us an example of great procrastinators like Leonardo Da Vinci, who regarded himself as a failure at one point of time and took 16 years to complete the Mona Lisa. She gives us another perspective on procrastinators that it isn’t necessarily bad for one’s career or health.

            6. Procrastination Is The Key To Problem Solving, by Andrea Jackson

            Andrea Jackson gives us her two categories of procrastinators: the accidental procrastinators and the deliberate procrastinators. She puts Leonardo Da Vinci in the former category and Thomas Edison in the latter one.

            There is a part where she labels procrastinators as unlocking a supersonic jigsaw puzzle in their head when they procrastinate; it means bringing thousands of ideas in one’s head when one procrastinates and keeps thinking about it. She calls Salvador Dali and Aristotle as deliberate procrastinators where they used to delay work in order to achieve a more creative result.

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            In this video, you’ll learn a new perspective about procrastinators.

            7. The Vaccination For Procrastination, by Bronwyn Clee

            Bronwyn Clee takes us in the psychology of a procrastinator, telling us that fear stops us taking up new work.

            She shares how she taught herself to be a decision-maker and not to fear if she will be able to take an action or not. From this video, you will learn how to bring the change in yourself and end procrastination.

            8. I’m Not Lazy, I’m Procrastinating, by Victoria Gonzalez

            Coming from a millennial, this is more relatable to the younger generation.

            Victoria Gonzalez tells us that procrastination has nothing do with time-management skills. In fact, a procrastinator puts off work but with an intention to complete it; lazy people are the opposite of that who don’t even try.

            9. Change Anything! Use Skillpower Over Willpower, by AI Wizler

            Al Wizler, cofounder of VitalSmarts, gives us an example of her mother’s smoking habits which she wanted to quit but she just couldn’t even after trying for years. Eventually, she died of cancer.

            He reminds us to the need to take control of the forces that influence our decisions, rather than letting them take control of ourselves.

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            In this video, you’ll learn the importance of self-reflection, identifying your behaviours, and getting to work on it.

            10. How To Motivate Yourself To Change Your Behaviour, by Tali Sharot

            Tali Sharot, a neuroscientist explains how we behave when put through alternating situations.

            She has found that people get to work when they are rewarded for an action immediately. Procrastinators can get themselves to work and reward themselves for it, which will lead to a change in their behaviour if they actually start that process of working sooner and completing it.

            In this video, you’ll learn about the role of celebrating small wins and tracking your progress when you’re trying to reach your goals.

            The Bottom Line

            Procrastinators can find all kinds of advices on TedTalks.

            A few of them, defending the idea and proclaiming that it actually allows for a more creative process and one that people shouldn’t feel so guilty about. Some of them, giving suggestions on how to put an end to it and making you a faster worker.

            It all depends on how you want to perceive it and if you want to, you can find the cure for this ailment.

            More About Procrastination

            Featured photo credit: Han Chau via unsplash.com

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